By Rachel SingerI spend a lot of time in my car and love to listen to music and talk on the radio. Invariably, as the Santa Clarita Valley recedes in my rearview mirror, static ensues and the KHTS AM-1220 signal fades. I change the station, tune into "The Mark and Brian Show" on 95.5 KLOS and begin laughing out loud.
Mark Thompson and Brian Phelps have been igniting the airwaves in Los Angeles for over 20 years. Their edgy, hilarious and sometimes controversial banter has attracted listeners by the millions.
For die-hard Mark and Brian fans, there is no mistaking Mark's deep voice, raucous laughter and off-the-cuff wit. Besides being a fan, I am fortunate enough to be a friend. Our love of country music superstar Toby Keith brought us together when several years ago, Mark's wife dropped a handwritten note into my mailbox. Those Thompsons are just full of surprises.
I'd like to invite you to sit back and maybe find out something new about the talent behind the microphone who makes us laugh each and every day.
Mark had quite an auspicious start in radio.... he was a janitor.
Mark Lemar Thompson was born and raised in rural Alabama. While cutting the rug at a teenage pool party, he observed that while music was playing on the radio, it was just background sound, but when the disc jockey spoke, all conversation in the room ceased. Ah...the power of the microphone. "This was a way to get people to listen to me and what I had to say," Mark thought. That small moment had a major impact on a kid that had always been enthralled with the world of radio and speaking into a mike.
Mark's first job in radio was for WSHF in Florence, Alabama. He was sixteen years old and the General Manager gave him a job cleaning the control room. When the station signed off in the evening, Mark had free reign to "practice his craft". Six months later he made a tape of himself practicing and submitted it to WOWL, the Top 40 station across town. He was hired, and now had the opportunity to sit behind his own microphone on weekends. Mark had the audience that he coveted and remained there for five years.
Fast forward to Birmingham, Alabama. It was 1985 and Mark had been working in radio for 13 years. I-95 was looking for a morning show. Mark was introduced by his program director to "a funny guy from Chicago". Meet Brian Phelps. "We met at a hotel and listened to tapes of each other all night," Mark recalled. "We liked what we heard and decided to give it a shot." The duo was not sure where it would lead to, but a year and a half later, KLOS 95.5 in Los Angeles came knocking. Mark and Brian's reputation in Birmingham had preceded them. Negotiations were completed and in June of 1987, The Mark and Brian Show headed west to LA.
Mark Thompson was not alone on that trip out to Los Angeles. He had married Lynda; the proverbial "hot cheerleader," who he met on a blind date. It has been 26 years of wedded bliss. For 22 of those years they have called Santa Clarita home. The SCV is where they have chosen to live and raise their children. First born Matthew, is a talented drummer, (just ask the neighbors) and is attending college in Boston. Their beautiful middle child, Amy, has a flair for the dramatic and is pursuing her love of musical theatre. Katie, (who shares the same birthday as Elvis) has her father's ambition and aspires to be a talk show host. She has gotten rave reviews doing on-air interviews showcasing her high school movers and shakers.
But, Mark and Lynda have a secret. Their favorite children are their three Labradors; Jo Jo, Elvis and Red.
In April of 2007, the Thompson family had a dreadful scare when Lynda was diagnosed with breast cancer. It was especially difficult for Mark who had lost his sister Tracey to the same disease several years before. Lynda valiantly fought the cancer and went through months of chemotherapy and radiation. Thankfully, all of our prayers were answered and she has made a full recovery.
I have subtly alluded to it....but, Mark is a huge Elvis Presley fan. He and his family braved the Memphis heat and humidity in August 2007, for a week with 200,000 other like-minded fanatics during the 30th anniversary of Elvis' death. He has collected fabulous Presley memorabilia that rivals Graceland. Mark recalled a rare moment he experienced, "I interviewed Lisa Marie Presley and when I asked her about singing one of her father's songs, she told me that she would never presume to."
While Mark and I sat down for a chat in his beautifully appointed man cave, I could not help but be aware of the eclectic compilation of treasures from his past and his present. It is apparent that he is so much more than just a powerhouse on the airwaves. On a table behind us was an Emmy. "I won that in 1997 for "The Andy Griffith Christmas Special," Mark indicated. It proudly stands next to his Marconi Award for radio brilliance.
Beautifully folded and preserved in a wooden box behind his desk, was an American flag. When I asked about it, Mark told a story of his father, Luther Thompson that left me awed.
"My father was a member of the U.S. Navy during World War II. He was stationed aboard the USS Maryland on December 7th, 1941," he said. Like thousands of other proud soldiers, Luther stared in disbelief while Japanese planes bombed Pearl Harbor. "My dad watched the sinking of the USS Arizona. He passed away almost five years ago and was buried with full military honors." Wow.
In 1991, long before "Survivor" or "American Idol", there was "The Adventures of Mark and Brian". This television series has been called the "original reality show".
"Each week, Brian and I were given a "quest" to fulfill," Mark explained. "One of the most popular was when we were up on stage dancing as the 6th and 7th Temptations." Motown never did call and though the show was tremendously popular, "NBC put it up against "60 Minutes." "This was the death time slot," Mark said.
You may not know this, but Mark is a prolific writer. He has written, produced and starred in two motion pictures. The first, "Mother Ghost", is a film that evolved from a single scene he wrote when his mother was in failing health.
"I was afraid that I was not going to get to say all that I wanted to say to her;" Mark remembered. "In the film, my character is going through the motions of life, when one morning the jewelry that my mother was buried in appears on my bathroom sink." It is a journey of self-discovery and life changing messages that come from a most unlikely of messengers.
On the opposite side of the spectrum is "2:13", Mark's second movie, and his foray into the genre of psychological thrillers. Think "Saw" with a bit of "Seven" and a little "Halloween" thrown in. If I didn't know better, I would be terrified of the mind that could conceive, write and create this descent into abject horror. "2:13" has not been released yet, but when it is, make sure you watch it with the lights on and a friend nearby.
Give yourself a little taste of the terror and watch the trailer on the website: 213themovie.com
Fans of the sitcom "Reba" will recognize Mark as Reba's boyfriend in Season Two.
"I read for it twice in front of Reba and got the call that the part was mine before I had left the parking lot," Mark laughed.
It was a recurring role that grew from two episodes to four episodes.
Having friends in high places was great fun when Mark's good friend, rocker John Waite, asked him to be in his music video with Allison Krause. "Missing You" went to number one on Country Music Television (CMT). Now, if his other friend Barry Manilow would call, I know who would be a shoe in for the role of Rico.
When you hear re-runs on "The Mark and Brian Show", you can be sure that it is vacation time and the Thompsons are jetting off to the east coast! Mark, Lynda, Matthew, Amy and Katie enjoy holidays at their lake manor in North Carolina. Captain Mark loves nothing more than sunset cruises on the family pontoon boat. "It's a time when we can all just get away and have down time," Mark smiled.
Who knew that the kid with the big dreams and redneck roots, would find himself one day at a urinal standing next to President Jimmy Carter. Or, that he would be able to drive his Harley Davidson down Hollywood Boulevard, stop in front of the Hollywood Wax Museum and see a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame with his name on it. Amazing and well deserved.